KABANDA CHULU, Lusaka
THE benefits of undertaking presidential trips abroad cannot be over-emphasised. These trips are of great benefit to the country since they provide an opportunity to market Zambia at an international level.
They also help to build international relations, strengthen co-operation and improve the country’s image through economic diplomacy as well as attracting foreign direct investments (FDI).
Notable progress has been achieved in the area of attracting FDI, and strengthening of bilateral and multilateral co-operation following the inauguration of President Lungu last year.
Upon assuming office and forming his government, President Lungu undertook various trips to Angola, Morocco, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritius within a month.
This didn’t go well with some critics, who argued that the trips came at a huge cost to the tax-payer, especially that Government had announced austerity measures to get out of the current economic situation.
But critics of the Presidential trips fail to realise that such outings will help Zambia to clinch bilateral and economic agreements, as well as improve the country’s international profile.
Positive results are now visible following the various trips Mr Lungu took. For instance, Zambia struck a deal with Saudi Arabia, in which goats and sheep will be exported by smallholder farmers.
An oil deal is also in the pipeline on a government-to-government basis.
It is also heartening to note that when President Lungu travelled to China in April this year, he sourced investment pledges worth US$1.5 billion that included funding of projects such as rehabilitation of the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA), setting up of milling plants in all provinces, rehabilitation of Kenneth Kaunda International Airport and the Solwezi-Jimbe railway line connecting Zambia to Angola.
Despite the various projects being implemented, some sections of society still think President Lungu’s foreign trips are a drain to the national coffers.
But Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba has assured that the high-level state visits President Lungu undertakes are the surest way to unlock potential and mutually beneficial co-operation with other countries.
Mr Kalaba said as a result, his ministry will continue facilitating such high-level visits between the Head of State and his counterparts on the continent and beyond.
It is, therefore, common sense to note that bilateral agreements could not be reached if the Zambian top leadership operated in a ‘closed shop’.
Former cabinet minister and parliamentary chief whip in the MMD Government Vernon Mwaanga said presidential foreign trips are aimed at promoting economic development in Zambia and are in line with an international trend of economic diplomacy.
“Economic diplomacy is the process through which countries tackle the outside world to maximise their national gains in all fields of activity, including trade, investment and other forms of economically beneficial exchanges,” he said.
Mr Mwaanga said Zambians should be proud that the President is marketing the country at regional and international levels and bringing investment to the country.
And chief Government spokesperson Kampamba Mulenga says the country stands to benefit a lot from President Lungu’s foreign trips.
Ms Mulenga, who is Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, urged Zambians not to criticise President Lungu’s trips but consider the economic benefits attached to the foreign travels.
“The benefits from the President’s foreign trips outweigh the costs that some people are complaining about. A lot of investment deals have been signed in various sectors of the economy as a result of the President’s foreign trips,” she said.
In a separate interview, Private Sector Development Association (PSDA) chairman Yusuf Dodia has urged President Lungu to focus on attracting investors in the energy sector.
Mr Dodia said currently the power sector is critically in need of huge investments, especially that energy affects other sectors.
“The Republican President should also try to attract investors in the tourism sector as it has remained under-exploited despite the great potential to contribute to national economic development,” he said.
It is in this vein that President Lungu should be supported and not condemned when he makes foreign travels because he is doing it for the benefit of Zambians.
There is no way a country can continue attracting massive FDI if its number one diplomat is not travelling to woo investors.